The late July sun warmed the sand around my feet. While my kids splashed in the shallow shoreline waves near the small sandy beach, I watched a bird intently for nearly 30 minutes. It flittered back and forth through the scrub grass in erratic spurts. The bird’s shrill tweets; a signal that I was supposed to pay attention. I adjusted my sunglasses and rolled over to prop my head on my hands. What an interesting study. Hopping around on one foot, with one wing held out at an awkward angle, the bird kept making statements that could only be interpreted as, “Chaos! Pay attention to the chaos!”
The killdeer bird is a master protector. This small brown and white bird will create a distraction to draw attention away from her nest of young. This courageous bird confronts even the largest opponents to encourage a threat to change its course. Feigning broken wings, charging with puffed feathers, and dances of nonsensical choreography are employed to lead predators away from the nest. When the threat has been led far enough awayfrom the nest to disengage the red alert, the final curtains descend upon the show. Then the bird takes flight with full health capacity and strength as if nothing had happened.
If you’ve never experienced the broken-wing killdeer dance with your own eyes, I’d put it on your bucket list. It was quite fascinating. While I, lounging in the summer sun with book in hand, was certainly not a threat to the bird, I can understand her reaction. The weekly volleyball tournaments were in full swing just over the berm, and kids splashing in the water created a lot of vibrant activity for this quiet little park. Confident no actual threat was present, the bird hopped away.
Tucked along the Lake Huron shore is one of the City of Alpena’s most pristine natural assets. This green oasis is a pocket of relaxation on the edge of a growing city landscape. US-23 North highway rumbles along mere feet away, but next to the lake the sound dissipates into the waves. The seclusion of the park offers a quiet escape from the bustle of our fast-paced lives.
Thanks to the foresight of a former resident, this killdeer had a good spot to nest – the greatest expanse of uninterrupted city shoreline. Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park’s open space, green cover, and ample food stores create an attractive destination for many birds. Herons, egrets and an occasional bald eagle can be seen searching for food on the beach.
If it weren’t for the foresight of one of Alpena’s early residents named Michael Paad, this little bird wouldn’t have had a home, I wouldn’t have had a place to wash the stress of the workweek away, my kids wouldn’t have shared a moment laughing and splashing each other in the heart of the Great Lakes region, and nearly 300 volleyball enthusiasts wouldn’t have been able to enjoy a sport that keeps them healthy and close to friends. Add to that the many people parked to view the water while catching a bite to eat before heading back to work, and you can begin to see the serenity that this park offers.
When Michael first set eyes on 85 shoreline acres on the outskirts of Alpena, he saw a vision of the future. A lakeside community with the relaxing natural shore of Lake Huron as its core. May 6, 1912, was one of those days upon which the face of the new community was molded. On this day, the property was purchased by Michael and Anna Paad, a hardworking couple that operated a dairy farm in Long Lake. The daily treks into town to deliver milk were taking their toll. Michael wanted his growing family to be closer to medical attention, commerce, and the excitement of the growing community.
Historic accounts of his journey share details of his toils with a vision so clear you can see him wiping the sweat from his hardworking Dutch brow. Moving an entire farming operation from the countryside, down French Road, into town was no small task in 1912. But the Paads were so smitten with the property along the lake that the effort was worthwhile. For many years the Paads operated their farm on these emerald fields flanked by sapphire waters. Being of typical hard-working American grit and hope, Michael worked outside the farm at the cement plant to assure that financial responsibilities were met to keep his farm running and his family fed. The Paads had eleven children together. When the oldest had grown and began to think of a life on their own, Michael worked his last year at the cement plant and it was time to complete their ultimate vision. As per his original plan, Michael divided his farm into plots so his children would have land upon which to build their own homes, and so other like-minded people could come to this peaceful pocket of natural beauty and build a life as a lakeside community.
The year 1924 was an important one for Alpena. Having divided their farm into buildable lots, the Paads created the Water Works Park Plat, a burgeoning lakeside subdivision. At this time they also made one more very important investment in the future of Alpena. In October of 1924, they deeded the property to the community, which is now known as Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park. The park name is in honor of Chief Mich-E-Ke-Wis, one of the last Native American chiefs in the area. His name means “Spirit of the Western Wind”. And one has to wonder if he and Micheal are watching over these parklands today.
The Water Works Park Plat name is unfamiliar to most. Even today, this subdivision is still affectionately referred to as the Paad Addition. Not without its struggles, the Paad Addition attracted residents much like Michael himself and a close-knit community was formed. A hard-working bunch willing to fight for what they love, the residents of the Paad Addition worked very hard throughout the years to improve their environment in the subdivision.
Michael and Anna were generous beyond their means and were often noted for extending a caring hand to those that would pass through the area in need of a meal or place to rest their head. When people needed just a bit of help along their journey, the Paads never hesitated. The well-known Push’em Up Tony (Harrison) even boarded in the Paads barn while he was working in Alpena and didn’t have a place to live. Without the help of the Paads, would Tony have blessed us with his legendary burgers? When the community was growing, a new school was needed but the public school system lacked the proper funding for land or a building. Understanding “community” in every sense of the word, the Paads donated property and a schoolhouse was moved from the Rockport property to the Paad Addition. One has to wonder how many historic stories and advancements of the community were made possible with a little help from the family of Michael and Anna Paad.
Today, residents of the Paad Addition continue to be among some of the most kind-hearted members of Alpena. While not everyone can live in the Paad Addition, everyone can step foot on the legacy of the Paad family. Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park remains a testament of the American dream. The pursuit of happiness. The promise that you can make something out of nothing if you work hard enough. Michael Paad was not a lumber baron or wealthy factory partner. He did, however, have riches beyond the common man and he wanted to share these riches with you and me. His wish, 93 years ago, that a piece of the Lake Huron shoreline remains protected from excessive development for the enjoyment of the entire community holds strong. Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park is still a place where residents and all visitors can access the natural beauty of our environment for picnics, to play with our children, watch wildlife, contemplate life as the sun rises, and chase lightning bugs as the sun sets. Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park is a place where anyone from any walk of life can go to regain balance in their lives with help from the solitude of nature.
Just as a killdeer will go to extreme measures to protect her young, so will the people of Alpena to protect their valuable heritage. Over the last 30 years, multiple development ideas have been proposed for the parklands. Some ideas that are not in keeping with the Paad’s original intent seem to be met with the Spirit of the Western Wind as Michael’s dream is defended and we are reminded of the value of our environment. The next time you venture out to the park on the south end of the City limit, take a moment to contemplate the legacy of Michael Paad. A man who made something out of nothing. The legacy of an America dream, firmly rooted on the shore of Lake Huron.
by Mary Beth Stutzman
President & CEO, Alpena Area Convention & Visitors Bureau